The Queen of England wasn’t dead.
Not yet, at least. Not in 2049.
Right now, at seven in the morning, she was getting ready to have her morning Earl Grey tea with a croissant. She liked to smother her croissants in raspberry preserves and butter. But that was all in the past. Yesterday, when she saw her primary care physician, he informed her that her cholesterol levels were elevated, so she decided to go easy on the butter.
“Your Majesty, are you sure?” the waiter asked. He was familiar with all of the queen’s routines—and butter on her croissant was a tradition.
“Yes, Charles, less butter,” she said, yawning. She placed a palm on her mouth and glanced at the window. “God, what a dreary morning in England. Will the rain ever stop?”
Charles—a chubby man in his fifties with a hearty laugh and a bald head—glanced at the window. Indeed, it was dark and dreary out there. The only thing that brightened Buckingham Palace was the green of the vast lawn and the various flowers. He always imagined more flowers than there really were, optimist that he was.
“It’s not so bad, madam,” he replied after a momentary pause. “If you look at the flowers below and don’t pay attention to the black sky above.”
The queen laughed. “I guess you’ll have to teach me to look at the ground. You know, I was taught to walk upright, to keep that elegant posture with head erect. I never did look at anything but sky all of my life.”
“That’s probably why you’ve been so depressed lately,” Charles observed. “Too much sky for you and not enough ground.”
“Maybe.” The queen shrugged her tired shoulders and repositioned herself in the chair. She blinked her eyes rhythmically, activating her electronic contacts, and a screen appeared in her right eye.
“Play the news,” she commanded.
“You requested to watch the news,” she heard the voice in her earpiece say.
“Yes,” she replied.
The news began to play.
She watched the morning news while Charles got her breakfast in order. She liked Charles. In fact, if it weren’t for the gloomy weather, she would say she loved England, too.
Mike, a soldier with the Queen’s Guard, stood a few feet from the queen. A few more of the Guard stood near the doorway, with an additional handful spread liberally throughout the various corners of the Palace.
Mike yawned. He hadn’t slept ever since his girlfriend found some new lube online. She had made love to him five times in a row last night, making him quite exhausted.
“What’s wrong?” she asked after the fourth round. “Why are you so short of breath?”
She looked concerned.
Mike rolled off her. “I don’t know,” he muttered, still breathless. “I guess my cardio isn’t where it needs to be.”
“Do you want me to get on top of you?”
Mike couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You mean you want to have sex again?”
“Well—” she began.
“Damn, girl,” he muttered. “What’s gotten into you?”
“I’m sorry, Mikey,” she murmured, seductively. And she always called him Mikey when she wanted something. “I just haven’t felt this good in ages, you know.”
“Oh, what the hell,” he said as he positioned himself between her legs. “Let’s pretend we’re seventeen again.”
He started the engines. She began to moan softly.
So that was how they made love a fifth time. And it was that fifth time that did him in.
He could feel that fifth round even as he stood next to the queen, pretending to be alert and oriented and all of that fun, soldier stuff.
The queen didn’t pay any attention to him. To her, he was practically invisible. In fact, all of the Queen’s Guards were.
Mike didn’t know this—and how could he?—but the queen was going to be dead soon. And, to make matters worse, there was nothing he was going to do about any of it. Even if he wanted to save the queen, he would not have gotten far. He did not know this, but the gun he was holding was useless. The bullet in the chamber was a dud. Even if he were to pull the trigger, nothing would happen. Of course, that was assuming he would pull the trigger.
But who would pull the trigger and shoot their own queen? Mike? Never. Charles? Never.
Charles walked out with the food tray.
“All done, Your Majesty,” he murmured as he placed the croissant with the tea on the table.
“Thank you, Charles,” she replied, taking a sip from the tea.
The queen was going to be dead soon.
Had Mike known any of it, he probably would have been suspicious of the tea.
Potassium cyanide? Ricin? Who-knows-what?
Wrong, wrong, and wrong. All wrong.
The queen heard a small disturbance outside. She placed her spoon down and paused to listen. It was the sound of three self-driving buses pulling up to the Palace, a few hundred feet away.
Mike would have heard the sound had he been paying any attention to strange sounds, but he wasn’t. He was tired and his eyes were half-open, half-closed. To be quite frank, Mike was basically sleeping.
The queen continued to drink her tea without being aware of anything unusual.
The three buses were shaped like subway trains; they were made of steel and painted silver. They had no windows. They seemed to stop at about the same time, as if in synchronic tune with each other.
Guards stood silently outside, paying no attention to them.
A few seconds later, large doors opened upwards, revealing a mass of people inside. Thirty-three in each bus.
Inside the Palace, the queen took a bite of the croissant and chewed it methodically.
Hmm, she thought. It’s not as good without all of that rich butter.
Mike swayed a bit, wishing he were back at home sleeping. He straightened out and pretended to focus.
Outside the Palace, and only for a split second, the buses stood in absolute silence, as if they were going to remain silent for all eternity. A blade of grass broke through the ground somewhere, and it was quiet enough for a dog to hear it.
And then all hell broke loose.
Ninety-nine clones stepped off the buses and began to run towards the Palace.
And every single one of them looked like the queen.
The guards outside the palace froze over with fear and confusion. Instinct called to raise their weapons, but instinct also told them to never shoot the queen. And all they saw before them were queens.
By the time the clones entered the Palace, Mike was drooling and dreaming.
The crowd of queens crashed through the doors, setting hinges and screws flying through the sterile Palace air. The real queen, who was still trying to finish her croissant, jumped in her seat once she turned and faced the madness. Her eyes popped and she became hysterical.
“Mike! Mike!” the real queen yelled. “Mike! Do something!”
Mike heard a voice calling, as if in the distance. He blinked. His eyes had that morning haze to them. All he could see when he opened them was a blur. The queen was yelling something.
Was she saying his name? She knew his name?
He blinked his confused eyes again.
The queen ran over, grasped his uniform, and began to plead with Mike. “Do something!” she kept on saying.
The clones followed suit and began to imitate the real queen.
No, no. It wasn’t the queen pleading with him, it was ten or twenty queens. All of them pleading for him to do something.
But what? What was he to do?
Mike pointed his gun at the ceiling and pulled the trigger. Nothing. He pulled it again. Still nothing.
The crowd of queens, seeing him raise his gun, began to drop to the floor, one by one. They cowered in fear and covered their identical heads with equally identical hands.
What the hell?What in the bloody hell is going on?
He couldn’t believe his eyes.
There was no way in hell this was a dream, or was it?
A hundred Guards ran into the dining area. They looked at the floor and then at Mike.
He didn’t know what to say.
“The queen—” he stuttered. “The queen wants us to do something.”
Of course, she does.
If only any of them knew who the real queen was.